If you have kids, you probably know about Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD).
While it sounds like a peculiar affliction, it is not that uncommon.
The virus, which tends to appear in the summer and fall, garnered its name from the characteristic blisters that appear on the fingers, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and inside the mouth.
More On Hand Foot And Mouth Disease
According to the Mayo Clinic, this highly contagious disease, while not life threatening, has no specific treatment. HFMD usually starts with a fever and a general “unwell” feeling that progresses within a day or two to flat discolored spots or bumps that typically blister.
While it is common among young school-age children, it can also affect adults and you can get it more than once in your lifetime. Adults can also have no symptoms, but pass it on to children or those who have a weakened immune system (1).
Doctors say the virus is often difficult to control because people are typically contagious before they show any symptoms. They can also continue to be contagious for several weeks after the infection starts. The most important way to control the spread of HFMD is to practice good hygiene.
Teach your child how to wash their hands properly to prevent the spread of germs, especially after using the washroom. As a parent, it is also extremely important to wash your hands after changing diapers.
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Even using these measures, however, you and your children can still be at risk, so there are specific symptoms you should look out for, especially if your child is in daycare or school.
HFMD Symptoms (2)
- Reduced appetite
- Sore throat
- A feeling of being unwell
- Painful sores in the mouth that usually begin as flat red spots
- A rash of flat red spots that may blister on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and sometimes even on the knees, elbows, buttocks, and/or genital area.
Symptoms typically appear in stages and not everyone will get all of the symptoms mentioned above. In fact, some people may have no symptoms at all, but can still be contagious. While the symptoms are usually mild, side effects like meningitis or encephalitis can be serious, especially for people with a weakened immune system, the elderly, or people who are already sick.
It normally takes 3–6 days after exposure to the virus for signs and/or symptoms to appear. According to Web MD, the infection usually goes away on its own in about 7-10 days, but in some cases, you or your child may experience fingernail and toenail loss several weeks later, although they will grow back.
Currently Record-Breaking Year For HFMD
HFMD affects close to 200,000 Americans every year and experts are warning this looks like it will be a record-breaking year for the virus. The West Central Health District in Columbus, Georgia just warned parents November 14 of higher than normal incidence of HFMD in the area.
While the CDC says that outbreaks of HFMD are not common in the US, there is currently a large outbreak sweeping across the southeastern states. They also warn that the highly contagious virus can easily spread to other areas so parents should be vigilant (3).
“People with HFMD are most contagious during the first week of their illness. However, they may sometimes remain contagious for weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may not develop any symptoms, but they can still spread the viruses to others. This is why you should always maintain good hygiene, like washing hands often with soap and water and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing. These actions will minimize your chance of getting and spreading infections. If you or your child has HFMD or similar symptoms you should try to refrain from attending work, school or any large congregate settings.” (4)
Outbreaks of HFMD across the US
Currently, there are recorded outbreaks in the following areas:
- University of Maryland
- University of North Carolina
- University of Illinois
- Genesee County, Michigan
- Columbus, Georgia
- Jacksonville, Florida
- State College, Pa.
If you live in one of these areas, be vigilant and make sure to follow extra hygiene techniques such as hand washing.
How To Treat HFMD
While there are no specified treatments for HFMD, there are ways to help relieve symptoms (5):
- Stop itching by applying cold compresses to affected areas.
- Give your child ice cubes to soothe mouth sores.
- Cold treats like Popsicles, yogurt, or smoothies soothe are good for sore throats
- Give you child an anti-itch bath using lukewarm green tea and chamomile.
If your child has mouth sores, it can be painful to swallow, but it is important to make sure they continue to drink enough liquids to prevent dehydration.
If you are worried about any symptoms, you should contact your health care provider. Do not send your child to daycare or school and do not go to work, as the virus is highly contagious.